On a trip to the High Sierra mountain range in California, something hit me: The pack animals that carried our gear had no way of freeing themselves from the burdens on their backs. Unable to reach their heavy loads, they depended on others to remove them.
“This is also true of us when we bear the weight of our emotional baggage. We cannot lay it down on our own; nor does it disappear over time. Rather, true freedom is possible only through Jesus. Why? Because we cannot reach our burdens and often don’t understand how deep they go. But Jesus does. And He knows the perfect way to heal us completely.”
—Charles F. Stanley, Every Day in His Presence
I’ll admit it—I love school. If it were up to me, I’d never leave a college campus. I’d live in a study room at the library, researching topics between classes, dine with brilliant women and men, and grow old walking among the towering oak trees and stately brick buildings.
Though I can’t live out this dream, I still pursue knowledge diligently because doing so is pure delight. There is nothing better than filling in a gap in my historical understanding, finding the etymology of a well-loved word, or unlocking the beauty of a classic work of literature. But I do all of these things for the sheer joy of it. This is how God designed me, and I see now that learning—in a way I still don’t fully understand—is an act of worship.
It wasn’t always this way.
When I was a much younger woman, I derived my very sense of self from study. My grades were more than signs of success; they were how I judged my worth. I had value because I was a straight-A student, always top of the class. I was like those pack animals Dr. Stanley talks about—weighed down with my own heavy load of compulsions and unrealistic expectations. I couldn’t set them down, and in all honesty, I didn’t want to. Who would I be without all that work, all those gold stars and awards and letters of recommendation?
This is how God designed me, and I see now that learning—in a way I still don’t fully understand—is an act of worship.
Thankfully, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon came back into my life during my last year of graduate school. As I read it for the third time and cranked out another excellent paper, something in my soul whispered, You know every page of this masterwork, but you have no clue what the book in the Bible with the same name is about.
So I put down my textbooks, picked up the Old Testament, and started to read. I spent time with the One whom my soul loves and reveled in the opulent luxuriousness of His care. Through those eight short chapters, Jesus began the long process of wooing me back to Him and, in time, freed me from the emotional baggage I’d been carrying—the dead weight of expectation and success I had strapped across my own bruised back.
I’m still studying His Word alongside the novels, essays, histories, and theological works that fuel my passion for learning, and I’ve realized that there’s no need to divide them. Information gained from one informs the others. Because of that one short biblical book I started with, all my loves were ultimately redeemed, and thankfully, I am now truly free to embrace my passion for learning because I love Someone else first and best.
Illustration by Adam Cruft